Sunday, May 26, 2013

A passion for challenging cases

Yesterday, my 23 month old, Valor and I spent the day at a RallyO/Freestyle Element dog show, leaving the house at 5 a.m. We returned at 5 p.m. I challenge myself when I do shows with my dogs, I also do Treibball and Nosework with my dogs and one is titled in RallyO.  I've also done conformation, herding, obedience, tracking and search and rescue, and each I've taken away pieces to use with the challenging dog cases that are my passion.

Passion often leads to excellence and I have to say working with challenging dogs is quite different than "showing in the ring".  Although precision is important for both, they are different in type.  I have to say I much prefer my job and passion for challenging cases over show ring escapades. However, I also believe it is important to do both for those of us who work with challenging dogs. The protocols are quite different and what you learn in one area, you may be able to apply to another.

Yesterday perfection was not our goal. My goal for Valor was that he could handle a small show venue - the sights, sounds, distractions. It was my goal to implement the steps of the CED (Canine Emotional Detox) in a show atmosphere - relax - mentally stimulating activity - relax - physical stimulation - mentally stimulating activity - relax - (and ultimately show).  It was all going very well.  We did crate games, Ttouch, a wrap and impulse control exercises.  Valor was so happy up until about 1 p.m. Distraction overload occurred.

Distractions piled one over the other can suddenly hit the fan - very much like working with a challenging dog.  The realization is that sometimes the dog won't show outward signs, but the influx of distractions affects them internally, nonetheless.  Valor was really handling it all very well - his first show atmosphere of this type - until a client who'd come to watch us, pulled up a chair in our space.  Valor was visibly distressed and wouldn't take treats.  After spending a very few minutes allowing him to take in this environmental adjustment, I simply removed him and we went to the truck, his safe zone.  I allowed him to rest distraction free for 30 minutes.  We came back in, after I had rearranged the environment and asked the client/friend to avert eyes, not talk directly to him at that moment.  He revived slowly, but surely, and was able to take treats again. He took them from a person showing next to us and then a trail up to my client/friend.  Then I took him to the middle of the room.  He was stressed, worried looking backwards (over his shoulder), then tense muscles, lip licking.  So we walked around a bit.

The bottom line for me was, I would not show him in that state of stress.  I needed to end this on success, just as I would expect a client to do who had a major reaction from their dog.

We were headed for the showring at 230 p.m. I'd already informed the stewards I may not be showing, if Valor's stress levels didn't come down.  So I tested him a bit outside the ring - and since the ring equals good things happening, he was showing an eagerness to go with me.  Making a few improvs, and doing some displacement sniffing - we went through the signs - not perfectly, but slowly and focusing more on being together and relaxing than showing off and getting claps or a high score.  We had fun and mid-way through the course Valor was engaged and had forgotten why he was distressed.

This was the first time we showed without a lead and Valor, returned quickly to me. It was good to show in a "match atmosphere" first for us to see what he could handle.  The biggest thing was we ended on success and Valor slept all the way home and then when we got home. He had a huge walk at 530 a.m. the next day.

Stress enters our dog's lives when we least expect it. Knowing what to do and how to help them adjust is the key to keeping stress chemicals at manageable levels and to show them you are keeping them safe so they build a trust and confidence and a sort of acceptance that distractions will be there and will occur.  Had Valor not been able to recover, I would not have shown him and we would have found another way to end on success.

For me, I'd much rather work challenging case loads, than be in a show ring, but it stretches me and it gives my dog a job over working with challenging cases themselves.  So it is, in an odd way, a reprieve and a learning ground.

I learned a lot about Valor yesterday and myself.  And the information learned from a show is information to take back to clients.  Just another day in the life of a behavior trainer/consultant.

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